Slogans of Beti Bachao Beti Padhao are artfully drawn all over the country and enough number of essay writing competitions have been organised to create an illusion of gender sensitivity. New born girls are provided with some nice pink clothes to cover their little bodies, which in due course will embody the dual concept of shame and honour. What more? Probably some cash in the name of Laadli Lakshmi Yojana. After all, that is the only way of explaining the tragedy where her little feet might bring wealth and prosperity (thus Lakshmi) and maybe give way to a son. Probably nothing makes a change in the son-preferential attitude of society. Laws and policies cannot make a difference when they are alien to the consciousness of society and reform cannot be superimposed. And it is disheartening to note that the evolution of this misogynist society is at its slowest pace.
While this might appear to be a thing of distant past to some, it remains the present reality of a large part of the country. Basically three recent events in my life prompted me to write this. First when one of my cousins gave birth to her second girl child, the grief was worthy of death. No sweets, no celebration. She had missed the opportunity to accomplish the purpose of her life, which undoubtedly is, giving birth to a son. Second, when another cousin was harassed in anticipation of her inability to produce a male heir. And third, when a sister-in-law was looking for son-bearing medicines which she thought was a normal thing to do. Just by the way, all these people are educated and live in the idea of ‘Modern India’ and wear the veil of gender equality.
In the world I grew up in, male child was a necessity. The pressure on women to give birth to a son was very high. So many women would not stop producing children till they attain this purpose of their lives, which you are already aware of, or die trying. A neighbour considered my steps auspicious only because after I entered his house, his wife gave birth to a son after three daughters. This phenomenon was most common. Sex selective abortion was not uncommon.
my sister-in-law was looking for son-bearing medicines which she thought was normal.
Then there were the stories of cousins born as disappointments and the aspirations for their infant deaths. No one would marry the woman who has no brother as per the injunction of Manusmriti. Nobody would buy the land of those without sons. Women have never been allowed to perform religious rituals and rites as per religious texts and had no rights of inheritance or duty of representation. But of course, it is said that sons and daughters are equal. Girls can be beautiful, smart, educated and what not except they cannot save their parents from hell. I believed that the grip of these scriptures would loosen their grip on society, but it doesn’t seem to. Again every niece born was not supposed to be born. I saw everyone indulging in sulking and questioning our very existence. How difficult would life be when you know that you are the opportunity cost of having a son.
While the social implications are as they are, but this has an impact on high child malnutrition rates in India. Indian parents hardly invest in subsequent pregnancies after the birth of one male child and as a result of this, children subsequently born after the first male child are stunted and malnutritioned. This was observed in a working paper written by Seema Jayachandran and Rohini Pande of Northwestern University. They used the data on child height to research how parental preferences have a bearing on the malnourishment of children. Once the male heir is procured, the investment on subsequent pregnancies reduces greatly. When there are number of girl children in anticipation of a son, the investments are slashed due to deteriorating economic conditions. It was also observed that girls who do not have brothers are healthier. Further, in matrilineal states like Kerala, the height difference is absent. It shows that there is a strong bearing of cultural and religious notions on our practical lives.
As I earlier mentioned, the son-bearing medicines openly being bartered is another indicator of the son-biased society. It is disgusting to see the people wearing the veils of gender sensitivity buying these medicines and subscribing to this ideology. A lot of these vaidyas or general physicians provide these medicines free of cost because of alleged spiritual purposes. Education or awareness weighs too little against promises of heaven or moksh. Also a legal statute has been enacted to deal with sex selective abortion, but society arrogantly remains unhindered in its son preferential attitude. The obsession with khandaan ka chiragh (lamp of the family) goes beyond laws and policies.
Indian parents hardly invest in subsequent pregnancies after the birth of one male child.
The Beti Bachao Aandolan can go on with their farce of alleged gender equality through cultural events and advertisements in baby voices, e.g. their click-baity ‘Selfie With Daughter‘ initiative. There is enough space for that kind of entertainment in patriarchal societies. The government also continues with its policies of Mukhyamantri Kanyadan Yojna because it is just another reminder of how girls are a burden on their families. These allegedly progressive schemes for women empowerment only serve to re-perpetuate patriarchal beliefs and further fuel this toxic culture of son preference.
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